Stanford players talk physical football, Harbaugh style

Mike Singletary wanted a smash-mouth offense. He wanted to be rough and tough and big and physical and leave his opponent a bloody and quivering mess by the midway point in the fourth quarter.

Guess what? So does Jim Harbaugh.

“The top thing (Harbaugh) stressed was being physical,” former Stanford wide receiver Ryan Whalen said at the 49ers’ local pro day Wednesday. “We were going to out-physical our opponents. That’s what he instilled over the years and our staff instilled. And everyone bought into it. That’s a mindset really and he really established that through our offseason workouts and through training camp. We were going to out-physical our opponents.”

Fear not, though. The Singletary/Harbaugh comparison breaks down quickly. And the differences go well beyond their preferred spelling of “physical” — with Harbaugh, presumably, siding with Merriam-Webster.

To put it simply, Singletary, the rugged ex-linebacker, wanted to run, regardless. Deception? A weakness. Strategy? For wussies.

“I’m not trying to outsmart anybody, I’m not trying to be a magician, we are playing football and we need to be able to run the football,” Singletary said on Dec. 31, 2008 – three days after he was promoted from interim to head coach.

At the same press conference, Singletary followed with this, “I want to know that when they put eight people in the box, I can still run the football, if I want to.”

Harbaugh, the rugged ex-quarterback, takes a different approach in his quest to pulverize an opponent – a point Whalen and former Stanford fullback Owen Marecic hammered home Wednesday.

Yes, Harbaugh wants to bust you in chops. Throw eight men in the box, though, and he’ll happily fillet you with finesse.

Call it the difference between Caveman Ball and, well, football.

“As much as we took pride in being physical, we really took pride in being a well-rounded offense,” Marecic said. “We could move the ball through the air or on the ground and we were good at doing it either way. Being physical is really important, but it’s also important to be able to strike in a number of different ways.”

Whalen discussed Harbaugh’s creativity and pointed to Stanford’s use of a wide variety of formations and personnel packages.

“We were going to be committed to running power, but (Harbaugh) also did a great of job of getting creative and maximizing our personnel,” he said. “So we’ve got two or three tight ends on the field, extra bigs. Or sometimes we’d have three or four wideouts. Last year we had a lot of weapons and we utilized all of them.”

Whalen added this: “I don’t think out-physicaling your opponent necessarily means you’re going to have to run it up the middle at them every time.”

• More from Singletary’s Dec. 31, 2008, press conference: “I am in the mode of more of a traditional style of offense, very much like the style that used to be here when Coach Bill Walsh was here, but in a different mindset.”

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